Chris Froome admitted a testing ninth stage of the Tour de France was one the hardest days of his career.

The 28-year-old Briton spent the whole stage on the defensive after losing all of his team-mates early and then being forced to survive a barrage of pressure from Movistar on his own.

He eventually crossed the line alongside all of his main rivals to retain the yellow jersey.

"I won't lie, that was a really hard day - one of the hardest days I have ever had on the bike," Froome said.

"I did feel in control in that lead group. A lot of guys have got different things that they are racing for, which meant there was reason for them to ride.

Team-mates fall away

"I think it is quite normal given all the work my team-mates did for me yesterday that they were feeling it a bit this morning.

"They did an extremely big job yesterday to get me into the yellow jersey. They are human and they can't keep doing that every day. Some days you can be there and some days you can't. That is bike racing."

The stage was won by Ireland's Dan Martin, who escaped alongside Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) on the last of the day's five categorised climbs and went on to win a sprint finish.

He becomes only the fifth Irishman to win a Tour stage, following in the footsteps of Seamus Elliott, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley.

It also continues a breakthrough year after victories at the Volta a Catalunya and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Martin elated

"I was lucky that Jakob came with me because I don't think one guy would have survived alone," Martin said.

"We were both giving it everything we could. I was actually praying we would get caught with 20km to go because my legs were hurting so much.

"I knew that last corner was crucial and I was quite confident I was a faster sprinter than Jakob.

"That comes from the victories I have achieved this years. I have got a new self-belief and calmness."